Layoffs and cuts worry faculty, staff

At a Q&A forum with the Staff Council on Jan. 6, members of UVM’s administration said that the school’s current budget deficit of $28 million will require the elimination of positions in many academic and staff departments.This news, announced officially at the beginning of December by University Communications, was received with immediate tension in the UVM community, causing protests by student activist groups.Initial fears relating to the scale of the proposed layoffs were widespread. Tenured faculty members worried if their positions were still protected, and staff from custodial workers to IT consultants expressed concern regarding the possibility of job loss.”My co-workers and I have already come under pressure from our bosses,” a staff member who wished to remain anonymous said. “All of us are feeling quite vulnerable.”The apprehension was partially relieved on Dec. 18 by a statement from the Office of the President.”The magnitude [of layoffs] is most likely in the dozens, not hundreds based on current budget assumptions,” President Fogel said. “Current tenured and tenure-track faculty will not have their positions cut.”In order to determine where job cuts need to be made, the administration has sent out a summary of budget readjustments to be made during the 2009 year, as well as reduction targets for the following three years.According to the documents, the administration is aiming to reduce the current “structural budget” – the money invested in staff and academic departments at UVM – by roughly $5.1 million for fiscal year 2009.Deans, assistants and the heads of the various staff departments on campus will need to review the reduction figures for their specific divisions of the budget and decide where, if necessary, to get rid of jobs.”The first cuts will be positions that have not been filled yet,” said David Shiman, head of United Academics, the faculty union at UVM. “This is essentially a freeze on the search for new professors.”Part-time faculty, which includes those who may lecture “full-time” at the University but are not considered “tenured” or “tenure-track,” are next in line for a review, Shiman, a professor in the Department of Education here at UVM, said.”Those with one or two year contracts that are up in 2009 will be most at risk – the luck of the draw.” At the Jan. 6 Staff Council meeting, one employee stood up to express her opinion that members of the faculty were afforded more protection from job loss because of their unionized status.”In the process of balancing the budget, if faculty were to be laid off, UVM would have to negotiate with United Academics, the faculty union. If staff are laid off, there are no negotiations because we are not represented,” she said.The administration, however, remains optimistic about the scale of potential cuts in employment.”It’s hard to pinpoint a number, but just to give a sense of scale, we’re projecting that [job losses] will be in the dozens,” Director of University Communications Enrique Cordera said. “Another option would be to say ‘I don’t know,’ because the decisions are still being made at the local department, school or college level.”Still, a sense of anxiety remains among faculty, staff and students alike about the effect layoffs and the overall cuts in the structural budget could have on the overall quality of the University.Concerns voiced by some students include the upkeep of dormitories and campus facilities as well as potential changes in the hours and availability of basic campus services, such as UVM’s library system.The area of concern that seems paramount to both students and professors is the caliber of the education provided by UVM’s current undergraduate student to faculty ratio: an overall 16:1.”One of the selling points of our University is how small our classrooms are on average, and the degree of attention that is accorded to each student because of the ratio of students to teachers,” English professor Tony Magistrale said.”We’re going to sacrifice these key features of the UVM experience that set it apart from similar state schools … if we see a substantial loss of faculty coupled with the expected rise in admissions,” he said.”One of the first reasons I came here – really the biggest reason I chose UVM – was the level of attention that was possible between professors and individual students here, which I knew was commonplace,” transfer student Liz McElhinney said. “I don’t want that to change.”